How I Got Into the Arts Part III: Frank and The Artwalk

So I started apprenticing for Frank Strunk III, a world-class metal artist who had a little studio down in Gulfport. Frank makes a variety of metal work, from kinetic pieces to acid-etched productions based on his experience working for printmakers. The work is unique, but even more importantly, very authentic and meaningful. And Frank himself is a no-nonsense, make art all day every day, happiest in his studio kind of guy. We got along great.

Frank Strunk III making the sparky sparks for pictures.

Working for Frank was a great change of pace, even if it was only a few days a week while still designing jewelry and making cookie cutters. And not only did I work at his studio, I went with him to markets and art festivals, meeting all sorts of artists and people making unconventional livings. It was a very happy time, and I started to experiment with making my own things—simply for the joy of making. After working for Frank for a year, with him imparting a great deal of wisdom upon me, we parted ways and I looked for someone else to work for and learn from. To this day, Frank is still one of my favorite people in the world and someone I view as a mentor and friend.

I had been attending St. Petersburg’s Second Saturday Art Walk religiously for years, always checking out the various galleries and chatting with artists. I had always enjoyed the scene, and there were two studios I was always drawn to. The first was Duncan McClellan’s glass studio, where a new glass artist from around the country would come every month and give a live glass-blowing demo. The other was MGA Sculpture Studio, which was always working on some public art project. Each month you’d get to see the project progress, so there was always something new to see and it felt like you got to follow along in the process.

Furthermore, there was also a peculiar guy that worked at MGA named Chris Padow. He and I always had a bizarre conversation at the Art Walk, ranging from frog-rearing to the stress dynamics of carbon fiber. He was smart and interesting, but most of all, weird. I always looked forward to my conversations with Chris.

Chris Padow and I would become very unlikely but fun and ridiculous friends (seen here as “Conjoined Idiots” for a Halloween Party Competition that we would place dead last in).

On this particular February Art Walk, I asked Chris if the studio took on apprentices or interns—the same type of deal I’d had with Frank. I wasn’t really looking for a job; I really was just looking to get out of my house and learn some new skills and be amongst creatives.

Me: “So… Does MGA take on apprentices?”
Chris, puzzled: “Apprentices?”
Me: “Yea. I used to apprentice for Frank Strunk and I really enjoyed it and I’d like to work with another artist.”
Chris: “You want a job?”
Me: “Oh. You guys pay?”
Chris: “… Yea, of course. We make stuff here.”

At that moment, Mark Aeling, the owner of MGA Sculpture Studio, walked in.

Chris: “Hey Mark, this guy is looking for a job.”
Mark, looking me up and down real quick: “Okay. Bring in a resume on Monday, 11am.”

And after that Monday interview, I had a job at MGA Sculpture Studio. I started that Tuesday, working three days a week as a fabricator. The lowest-end fabricator, pretty much just sanding aluminum for eight hours a day. For $10 an hour.

But I was officially PAID to be in the arts.

Stay tuned for Part IV: Making A Splash at MGA

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